Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Identifying Mary Boleyn

Last weekend the Mailonline website carried an article about a painting in the Royal Collection which it says has now been identified as a portrait of Mary Boleyn, sometime mistress of King Henry VIII and elder sister of the more famous, or infamous, Anne. The article can be seen at Mystery woman in portrait identified after 300 years as Mary Boleyn

I think the writer or copy editor has missed a point here - I think the portrait has been identified as being of Mary Boleyn for a long time, and is used widely on internet sites about her and her family. I think the story is more about identifying where the painting belongs within a series in the Royal Collection. It appears to be a seventeenth century copy of a sixteenth century original.

That said the article got me to look up what is known of Mary Boleyn - and not from the vast detritus of historical novels about her and her family. They are rarely historical or novel. The Wikipedia biography is actually quite full for a woman who lived much of her life in the shadows, if not in the complete shade. It can be seen at Mary Boleyn

With that it is really well worthwhile using the links to see exactly who she was connected to, and that opens up a lot of the social complexities of early sixteenth century England. Her two marriages are central to this. Her first husband, William Carey, had a Beaufort grandmother, cousin to the Lady Margaret. Her second husband, William Stafford, was a seemingly impecunious distant relative of the great Stafford family, and he took as his second wife a second cousin who was closer to the main line. She was a granddaughter of the last Stafford Duke of Buckingham and also of Bl. Margaret Pole. Her uncle was therefore Cardinal Pole, but she and her family, clearly having evangelical views, took refuge in Geneva in the reign of Queen Mary I. The network so revealed bore out a point made by a researcher on the period that one needs to look at the whole range of an individual’s family connections in order to see how and where they fitted, or did not fit, into the world around them.

The other thing I learned from the original Mailonline feature was that whilst Anne Boleyn was the mother of Queen Elizabeth I, Mary Boleyn is the eleven times great grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II.

That line of descent comes through Her Majesty’s grandmother the Countess of Strathmore, who was descended from Mary Boleyn’s marriage to William Carey.

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